Karen Calvert, a retired educator, wife, and mother of two in Columbia, South Carolina, discusses her frustrating and agonizing journey with multiple sclerosisand explains how family, friends, and faith have kept her going.

My life was very full and active. I was an educator in career guidance for middle-school students, taking night classes toward a new certification and master's degree. I traveled to one of six middle schools, handling a caseload of about 300 students. I was a wife and mother to a son in college and a daughter in elementary school.

My husband and I enjoyed working on fun home-improvement projects, which always looked easierand more funin the videos.

The Pain Begins
During one of those home-improvement projects in April 2004, I started experiencing severe pain on the left side of my neck that radiated all the way down my arm. For the past several months, the left side of my head had tingled occasionally.

Little did I know that I would soon embark on a dizzying adventure that would lead me to multiple neurologists and neurosurgeonsand including one neurologist halfway across the state. My journey began with my family doctor, who told me I may have had carpal tunnel syndrome. He sent me to my first of ultimately three neurologists.

The tests were negative for carpal tunnel, but my entire arm and fingers were numb and the pain was really severe. Then in May of that year, an x-ray showed I had a herniated disc, and my family doctor lined up an MRI of my neck and spinal chord.

With the MRI results in hand, I went to see my first neurosurgeon, who also said I had disc problems. He injected steroids into my neck.

By this time, the numbness and tingling were radiating all the way down my leg. Walking became extremely difficult, and I could hardly keep my balance. I saw the neurosurgeon several more times, got steroid injections in my neck, but the numbness, tingling, and pain were still severe. He wanted to give me a steroid shot in my lower back, but I refused.

The Frustration Mounts
I was frustrated because I kept getting worse. No doctornot my family physician, a neurologist, or a neurosurgeoncould figure out what I had. Imagine going from doctor to doctor to doctorand never finding a physician who could tell you what was wrong.

So in the fall of 2004, I sought the opinion of a second neurosurgeon, who took an MRI of my brain that October and told me he didn't think it was a brain tumor. I was terrified! Was something wrong with my brain?

During another appointment with this neurosurgeon, my husband and I were waiting for the results of the MRI, and I overheard the nurse saying I had lesions on the white matter of my brain. But the neurosurgeon never mentioned the lesions to me.

Now comes the second neurologist, who thought my problem was depression and suggested I get outdoors and walk a little farther each day. Little did he realize I was still working at six middle schools and walking up and down hallways all day, plus walking at my house doing my daily chores. He also wanted to increase my Wellbutrin medication, which I was taking for depression.

Because I believe in being proactive about my health, I came home and looked up all possible neurological diseases involving the white matter of the brain. After reading about various symptoms, I knew what was causing my intense numbness, tingling, pain, and problems with walking and balance: multiple sclerosis, known as MS.

Reluctantly, I kept my next appointment with this second neurologist, who wanted to perform more nerve tests. He kept us waiting more than an hour and a half before finally sitting down with us and talking about various MS drugs and their horrible side effects. He wasn't ready to put me on any of them: Let's just wait and see what happens, he said.

Here's the strange part: He never even diagnosed me with MS, just depression. I didn't feel as though I was getting anywhere with this second neurologist, and so I came home, frustrated, and called my family doctor.

Finally, in March 2005, my family doctor sent me to a neurologistthis time, a womanat the MS Clinic in Charleston, 115 miles from my home. At long last, a doctor diagnosed me with relapsing-remitting MS. In other words, I'm going to have good and bad moments, days, weeks, and months. It will be very unpredictable, she warned. By this time, nearly a full year had passed after searing pain and numbness became a part of my life.

Earlier Signs of MS
This third neurologist added a new wrinkle. After conducting a careful exam and taking my medical history, she believed my first MS attack occurred way back in 1988.

On that day, I was rushed to the hospital after suddenly losing my vision and suffering incredible pain. Doctors at the hospital assumed I had meningitis. As I found out years later, it wasn't meningitis. I began to realize that other events in my life that were attributed to other causes may have earlier MS attacks.

I didn't feel the same after being hospitalized for what I believed to be meningitis. Three months went by before my eyes cleared up. I was so extremely tired for months afterward that I couldn't get back to exercising. I was thin then and had been dedicated to power walking several times a day. A year later, I simply couldn't keep the extra weight off and was no longer enjoying the energy I had before the so-called meningitis attack.

On another occasion, while advising a student, I fell when I was getting up out of my chair and couldn't get up without help. For the next three or four days, I remained in bed in severe pain. I really believe that was another MS attack, but I hadn't been diagnosed with the disease at that time. In addition, the fingers on my left hand tingled every now and then, but I never talked to a doctor about it.

Then in 1993, I had severe pain down my left side of my neck and into my arm. A chiropractor told me I had a pinched nerve. Massage therapy and chiropractic adjustments did make me feel better, but I guess that was a sign that my MS was the kind that comes and goes.

Seven years later, in 2000, both of my feet ached all the time, and it was really hard to walk. My doctor at the time said I had some kind of foot problem, so he had some special inserts made for my shoes. They didn't help, but one day the pain vanished as fast as it came on.

Little did I know when I was having all of these attacks that they weren't from meningitis, a pinched nerve, or bad feet. The doctors didn't seem to know either.

Praying, Crying, Hugging

Once I was diagnosed with MS, I prayed a lot, cried a lot, got lots of hugs. Everybody rallied around me and loved me through the whole ordealand I really needed it. The month I was diagnosed, October 2004, was particularly difficult for my whole family. The very week that I was diagnosed, my daughter broke her leg so badly in a bike accident that she had to be in a wheelchair. The next week, one of my husband's students fell off a golf cart and diedthe third to die at his small school within a year.

Prayer and lots of love from family and friends were the only things that got us through. I couldn't have asked for a better husband or better children. They were there for me the whole time.

During one of my MRIs, my husband stood beside the machine for almost an hour, holding my hand as my brain was being scanned. Many times, my husband, son, and daughter fixed my meals and brought them to me, even cutting up my meat because I couldn't do it myself. My officemates fixed my coffee and brought it to me because I was unable to pour from the coffee pot or lift my cup without both hands.

Coping With MS
No doctor has ever given me a prognosis. Sometimes, I wake up feeling very bad, but by that afternoon, I'm feeling pretty good.

I'm on the daily injection called Copaxone, which is a drug used to reduce how often people with MS have relapses. The idea is that this medicine is supposed to help me have fewer, and less severe, relapsesand I haven't suffered any major side effects. Now, to me, taking a shot is as easy as taking a pill. I am glad that I have good insurance, because a 30-day supply of Copaxone costs more than $1,600, but my co-pay is only $75.

When I do have flare-ups, I get a daily IV treatment of Solu-Medrol, which is a steroid. I have also taken oral steroids.

Learning to Pace Myself
I do things at my own pace now, in the comfort of my recliner and wearing my jammies. Pace yourself has become the standard phrase in our household. When I do feel well, I want to do everything, but I usually pay for it over the next day or so by having to stay in bed.

My expectations no longer match my abilities. I have had to change my goals and praise myself for small successes. Cooking a meal for my family is a success now. My husband says he has no expectations for me at home, so I do what I can and forget the rest, thanks to the housekeeper who comes in once a week.

Even though I've slowed down, I do not consider myself handicapped or disabled. I'm physically inconveniencedsometimes! I want people to understand what MS is, and that most people with it don't end up permanently in a wheelchair.

I had an amazing spiritual moment one day before I was diagnosed. My husband and I had just left the neurologist's office and I wasn't walking well that day, so I waited for him to get the car. I suddenly noticed, on top of the railing in the parking garage, a small silver cross with these words, Jesus Christ is Lord. Since I have a deep faith is God, I knew right then that I had been sent a promise that no matter what happened to me, I would handle it. At that point, I felt relief and gained courage. I had never before had a spiritual moment like that, and I carry the cross with me every day.

When I retired in 2005, I knew God had a hand in all of this. I still have much to give and much to do for His glory, but just differently now. I do church volunteer work at my home on my laptop computer.

When I look back on everything, I most hated telling people about my MS when they said, I'm so sorry. I don't want people to feel sorry for methen or now. I just want to be treated the same, because I am still the same person. I just have to do things differently now.

Be Your Own Advocate
Through all of this, one thing I learned quickly is you must be your own health advocate and do as much research as possible about your chronic illness. Joining an MS Support Group sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society helped me learn about MS specialty clinics and which doctors were better at treating MS.

There are a lot of wonderful neurologists in Columbia and around the country, but few specialize in MS. It's a complicated disease because it's different in every single person. The doctors don't yet know what causes it, so they haven't found a cure.

Although my family doctor made the referral to the MS Clinic in Charleston, I was actually encouraged to go there by an assistant principal who knew a teacher with MS who was being treated there and making good progress. That's when I went back to my family doctor and told him where I wanted to go. Once he made the referral, it took three months to get an appointment.

Loving Life, Having Fun
I love life. I like to have fun and laugh. One of the most enjoyable things I've done for myself is getting a puppy. Little Maggie is 9 months old nowand life is a lot more fun with her in it. I just bought a shirt that says, My dog is my therapist, and she really is. She listens to me and brings me great joy.

I have a bright future. I know I'll never be able to do certain things again, but I can learn how to do many other things. I particularly want to take art and piano lessons, both of which will help my hands and my soul. In fact, I may even follow through on taking yoga!

Karen Calvert's Top 10 Tips for Multiple Sclerosis Patients

1. Have faith in God and pray.
2. Get the support you need from family.
3. Join an MS support group.
4. Don't give up everything that you enjoy doing, although you may have to find new ways to enjoy them.
5. Find a neurologist you trust.
6. Read and learn as much as you can about MS and its treatments.
7. Get a second opinion if you're not comfortable with your diagnosis or treatment plan.
8. Use durable medical equipment when needed, and don't be embarrassed. It's better to use a cane than to fall and injure yourself.
9. Remember: No whining! Yes, MS sucks, and some days are really hard, but try to look for the positive.
10. Laugh and have fun. It takes your mind off your problems.